Category Archives: Course Planning

What now? How we will be continuing EDL 290T. Part one: Process.

Social Distancing is now a part of our lives, at least for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, now I won’t be able to see the students in my class for the rest of the semester and watch them learning and playing games. However, we will still be moving forward with the class, and I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to figure out how we would be moving forward with this class. At the same time I’ve been contemplating what to do with my OTHER class as well, which is student organization leadership. That class also uses games, activities, and interactive activities to teach students what they need to know about making their student organizations the best they can be.

This blog is mainly going to be aimed at my students in 290T and is all about: how are we going to continue this class going forward? It will be a challenge, more for some than others, but we are going to work to make it through. I will offer what tools I know of and will gladly accept feedback from others. I have received feedback already from friends and colleagues that teach games, from one who work in the games industry and much more to help come up with some of the options we have for continuing this class. I’m dividing this into two separate blogs. Today we are going to focus more on the HOW. How will you continue getting the experience you signed up for, or to the best of your abilities, while we are distance learning. The next blog will be more of the WHAT. What games will will be playing? For that I will say I’ve opened a lot more options for what we could do, including video games.

A short note there: when the class was created one of my supporters asked about and thought this was going to be a video game related class. I told her it would not as we would not be feasible to have everyone purchase, say, a PS4 and a bunch of video game to take the class. However, I’ve always told the class we can use video games for many of the assignments. Now, as I will (next time) be providing a list of games people can play and letting them pick what and how they play we will open video games up as an option.

So: on to how we will do what we will do:

Play the game. The simplest solution: If you own the game, play the game with people! Another option is, if you have the capabilities, play with your classmates over Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. If one person has the game and can focus a camera on the board it will create a way for you to play the game with others either in class or other friends.

You can watch an example of a couple of my NASAGA friends playing Gloomhaven in this manner.

Mark and Melissa from NASAGA playing Gloomhaven (YouTube link)

Board Game Arena – I’ve used Board Game Arena to test a few games I was interested in trying to see if I wanted to buy/remember how to play. Students will be able to play many different games here for free. You will need to register for an account soon as they are filling up on spots with the ongoing crisis.

A game of Seasons from Board Game Arena. Taken from the forum site for BGA.

Tabletopia – Also free (however with much of the content premium where you do need to buy the game), Tabletopia has a TON of great games you can play. I would suggest downloading the app via Steam over the website interface but realistically you can do either to play the games you want for class.

Tabletopia cover image. Showing the Tabletopia logo and some games from Tabletopia in action.

Tabletop Simulator – Another Steam option, however this one is 19.99 (plus some games you have to buy separately.)

Tabletop Simulator Logo

The Crucible Online – For one week Keyforge is going to be an option. The Crucible allows you to play Keyforge online with others.

A game of Keyforge in progress from The Crucible Online.

For video games, these are just a few of the choices. However, I would look into which, if any, of these options work best for you and feel free to reach out to me with any comments, concerns, or questions. Soon we will have the list of optional games we will use going forward in the class.

I look forward to continuing EDL 290T in this rather unorthodox way soon!

Origins Game Fair 2018 and Roll Player

As I mentioned in our last blog I recently attended Origins 2018. I attended this with the mindset less about me personally this year but much more about how I could use this opportunity both for the EDL 290T class as well as for the various student organizations I work with. We have made several connections that will be beneficial for one or the other (or, in the case of a couple I’ll be blogging about soon beneficial for both.)

Today, however, I wanted to continue blogging with a second game I found that could be an awesome addition to the class. While walking around talking to different companies about the class I got almost fully positive reactions. (There was really only one negative reaction my whole time.) One of the best was from Keith Matejka from Thunderworks Games.  Keith is the designer of Roll Player.

Roll Player

Roll Player

Roll Player is a dice rollin game for 2-4 players where you create a character for a Role Playing Game. I’ve played some RPGs were that is the most fun part, so I was intrigued by this game. In Roll Player you choose (in player order) your race and are randomly dealt your class, alignment, etc. However, Tom Vasel can do a much better job explaining the game in the following video than I could.


Back to Origins. I told Keith about my class and he told me “you should consider Roll Player for your class about “building your character.” In that class we talk about the basic building blocks of what makes you who you are-setting up the following two classes on values and identity. Keith offered a copy of the game to try to see what I thought about using it as an addition for the class.

I think Roll Player could very well be an excellent addition to the class. Students have to make very strategic choices based on several aspects of the game. They want to get their values aligned. They have a class with requirements they want to match and a character history to match. These basically show the goals, values and the aspects of personality they need to have. What is important to you and what do you need to let go to accomplish a more pressing goal you may have? What is important to you and what do you need to do to accomplish that goal. The use of the cards in the card drafting portion of the game again exemplifies these. This is an excellent way to look at “what are the building blocks of your character” and transition into the much more in depth look at values and identity over the coming weeks.

In short-I think Roll Player may be an addition that we may be making if things work out for the future in EDL 290T.

Games in Schools and Libraries Podcast

This is going to be the most casual, conversational blog I write most likely. Just because…well…I am blown away.

I won’t lie…in 2012 when I had the idea for this class after attending the NASAGA conference (which you should absolutely attend this October) it was little more than a dream I thought was a cool idea. The EDL department (and in particular Dr. Kathleen Knight Abowitz) supported the idea. It was really Bethany MacMillan who made the idea a reality. Dr. Bob De Schutter and the IMS Department supported us as we got started in making it happen. It couldn’t have happened without CTE and the grant we received through them. Thankful for Jennifer, my wife, always supporting what I do. However…all of that said it still feels like a dream that this is a thing we did…even though the class is very much a reality that around 70 students have taken so far and another batch is prepared to take this fall.

It seemed so weird to me I still have the screen shot when the course list first came out and I saw the class listed. I had been teaching classes for a decade but this was something totally different.

Course Listing

This is the original course listing for EDL 290T for the first time.

I was surprised when the university wanted to send in a photographer to take pictures for use in marketing materials to show the awesome classes we have at Miami. Now another step that seemed dream like but isn’t: at the end of March Bethany and I were recorded as guests for the Games in Schools and Libraries podcast. Really…why would anyone care about this little class we created? But people seemed to and now we were being recorded for a podcast.

That podcast is now live. Which just doesn’t seem real to me. I won’t lie…it always baffles me when people consider me knowledgeable or an expert on any type of content…primarily because I know me and I don’t consider me an expert on anything, for the most part. People asking me for advice or looking to me as this great wise person just baffles and humbles me. However, I’ll ride this train (I have a Ticket to Ride!) for as long as I can and enjoy it while I can.

Games in Schools and Libraries Website

Feel free to follow the link/click the picture to go to the GSL website to hear our podcast.

Thanks to all those that have taken the class, helped make the class possible, and that have believed in me! Don’t worry…this is just the beginning!

Who’s the teacher?

“Wait, so the first 70 minutes of class they just play games? Do you even teach?”

Yep- students have the first 70 minutes of our weekly meeting to play through the various games of that particular week. Why do JS and I show up? Besides to join in the fun? Well, “you” asked, so let’s do this…

I’ve gone back and forth on best ways to write this, and I think the easiest is to give a sample of how we could have written the course in a way that reflected each of the following styles followed by an explanation as to why we chose the style we did. There is a ton of research available on different teaching styles, but I will only focus on a few here to keep you from having to read a dissertation-length entry!

Lecture Based/Authoritative Classroom
Many times in higher education, we are stuck on lecture and note based courses. We, as the teacher of the course, have all the information, and they only way students can have that information is if we talk at you. Is there a time and place for this type of learning? Certainly. Some learn best this way, some teach best this way.
Example: Having students copy copious amounts of notes on the history of boardgames from powerpoint slides and telling stories about why we, as the instructors, believe leadership is found in certain games.
Why Not Chosen: JS and I both learn very differently than what is offered through this style. We also believe that we can teach the course topic more effectively through another means. We do use some direct instruction when we briefly review a reading we offer to students, but this always takes less than 10 minutes of the class.

Flipped Classroom
I have seen this style of classroom learning become more and more popular in the last few years with peers and other instructors. This style occurs when the learning is placed completely in the students hands to decide what they want to learn about and how deeply. The instructor here is more of a guide person to help find answers as needed.
Example: Letting students decide what leadership topics they want to learn about and choose what games they would like to try to make it happen.
Why Not Chosen: Well, as much as we would like to let students develop with means they choose, the reality is that we were awarded so much money and bought a limited amount of games. Also, most schools require your courses have an intended outcome, so…. Although, we do use aspects of this method in our debriefs of the games by having pre-determined questions we want to touch on, but allow students to develop other points of discussion as it progresses.

Co-constructed Classroom
This style of classroom is somewhat of a hybrid of the flipped classroom. It recognizes that students have great information to share with the class, and so do the instructors. It allows instructors to create a general map of learning outcomes, while giving students options to choose how they will arrive at those locations. This style encourages both students and instructors to bring their past knowledge to the table and build off of one another to create something new, together.
Example: Dedicating a class that students can pick from 5-6 different games to play and discuss a specific leadership topic and how it relates to something they’ve experienced in their own life. Additionally, allowing students to restructure or modify the games to see if it changes how they see leadership play out in the game.
Why Chosen: If you look way back in our posts, you’ll find a little diddy about Bloom’s Taxonomy and how creation is at the top. This style can be really scary both for the instructors and the students because there is a lot of unknown involved. However, this can also be the most empowering, because in the end, everyone is discovering and creating something new, together.


So do JS and I do nothing while the students are playing the first part of class? NO!! Our job is to still be present and teach. We are also learning and actively participating. Yay for multitasking!

Student playing Hanabi.

  1. We make sure games are running smoothly and serve as a rule touchpoint. Students are asked to come prepared knowing the games, however, we all know there are some super wickedly confusing rules in games. We also make sure the groups are largely following the rules at the beginning. Sometimes we miss things. Usually it is no problem, but sometimes it changes the outcome of the game- and even might ruin the learning outcome we want you to reach.

Group of students playing The Resistance: Avalon

2. We are constantly observing. We are making sure everyone is playing and learning who skimmed the rules the night before. We are making mental notes as to which groups are playing the game for different outcomes. We are seeing who to press deeper in the group debrief about their experience. These observations help to guide our debrief section to be an even deeper and greater learning experience for all involved. (AND, this part helps us learn what to modify in the future renditions of the class, too!)

Group of students playing Secret Hitler

3. Most importantly, we are interacting with the students in the moment. Laugh with them. Learn with them when the game goes a-wire. Help set the mood at the beginning of a round. Add storyline into the game to give context. This is a part of the co-creation (outside of the debriefs). “Oh, you were killed the past 3 times this game? Why? Teammates, why do you not trust this character? Have you tried _____?” “You’ve used all of your fireworks. Must be a bright sky! Congratulations!”

The fact of matter is this: just because instructors are not standing at the front of the classroom and pouring information into the students does not mean the students are not learning and the instructors are not teaching. Learning and teaching can happen in many different ways. What is important, is to find the ways that work best for you- and do it!

Day One Leadership, Drew Dudley, and the Framework of the Class

As I’ve mentioned in many contexts-I coordinate the EDL 290 family of classes and teach some of the sections. My direct responsibility is for 290E (Emerging Leaders), 290S (Student Organization Leaders), 290O (Open section about individual leadership for anyone interested), and of course 290T (Tabletop Games and Leadership.) The concepts of the Emerging Leaders class started back in the late 90s while I was still in college as an undergrad at a different institution and has evolved through the years. As Bethany said to me recently “The point of education is that it is constantly evolving-if you weren’t changing things I’d be worried.” As part of that I am consistently looking for new things to add to the class to make it the best possible experience for the students.

A few years ago in my searches I found something that literally changed my perspective on things and changed the way I taught leadership, or at least gave me a better tool to do so. It was a short YouTube video.

Listening to Drew Dudley talk about leadership in this way that I knew and believed myself changed how I taught the class. It is hard to describe, because I had concepts like this that I taught-but it gave me the language and the means to get students to think beyond the normal perspectives they had of leadership in a relatable, touching manner. It let me give students a new way to look at leadership: as Lollipop Moments. It quickly became one of the three frameworks I use in my class for what leadership is. (The others are Heifetz & Linsky’s Leading with an Open Heart and Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership.)

Really…the Everyday Leadership video I thought would be all I needed. And  I watched it again…and again…showing it to literally hundreds of people (who spread it more themselves) and wanted to see what else Drew had to say on the topic of leadership. And it was so much more.

The video The Leadership Game had me reconsidering things in class and help discuss integrity and values in new ways. The Game Has No Winners and The List are excellent ways of getting students to consider the goals and vision for what is important in their life. Those were wonderful additions. The fact that I agree and believe Drew’s philosophies and statements helped. What he gave me was the resources and the words from an expert to let them see what I wanted them to hear.

Best of all though was The Power of Disconnection. Where Drew shares a believe that has shaped the rest of his career (and without knowing it has always been a major part of mine): every day being a Day One.

When I walk into class every day…it is Day One. All I have in mind is the 20+ students in my class They are all that matter to me. I know many people dread going to work…I have been employed at Miami University for over twelve years and I don’t think I’ve come to work a single day in my life. Every day I want to be here and help and serve the students. If I was independently wealthy I would do this job for free. Every day, in the words of Drew Dudley (and the guide through the desert-we can’t forget the impact Mustafa has), is a Day One.

To my great pleasure as part of another aspect of my job (University Lecture Series) last year we got the pleasure of bringing Drew to campus. I got to spend about a half day with him. It was amazing. Drew is such a fantastic person who has touched so many people he will never get to meet. It was awesome getting to let students interact with a man who has inspired and shaped their beliefs. He was blown away by how much our students know about his work. He would mention one of his videos and everyone around knew and had watched it.

JS, Drew Dudley, and Jennifer Bragg

Drew is an amazing individual. He has done so much to touch so many lives and I am so glad I was able to bring him into my life and help spread his message to so many people through EDL 290.

As one last piece of advice from Drew to all students:

Collaboration and Creation

JS: I have worked with a lot of people through the year. The day we are writing this and posting it is the final day of my twelfth year at Miami University. I’ve served on a number of committees, worked on tons of projects, and done a ton of different things. I’ve never had a collaborative relationship like this one. To start with I was never asked about doing it…Bethany told me we were going to. And then she told me her time frame and I thought she was insane. Looking back at it 8 months later…it is easily the best collaboration I’ve ever been a part of. And I think that is because we are, very much and in a lot of ways, opposites.

B: The collaboration piece of this project is what made the end product so amazing. JS had an idea and I believed in him- so I may have given him a little extra push with some confidence… and an aggressive timeline. JS was our big picture person. It was JS who brought in the overarching idea for the class and goal of having everything gamified. I came along and helped to set up the checkpoints to ensure we got it done and met all of the adminsitrative-y things along the way. The details? Well, let’s just say we were not saving the trees with how many post-it notes we went through when going back and forth come to a “decision” in our discussions.

JS: Bethany hit the nail on the head. I am very much an idea person and not so much with the executing. Even StrengthsFinder will tell you that. I took a course to learn to facilitate strengths and they gave us our full list. The highest thing in the Executing theme of the signature themes was 14th. Ideas…that I can do. Following through…not so much. Bethany made sure I followed through. And pushed me to be a better collaborator than I had ever been. Or as she called it…a mountain builder.

B: Oh, StrengthsFinder… I think 4 of my top 5 were executing? (JS: I think sometimes she wanted to execute me…) Anywho…

Overall, I was impressed that we were able to not only meet the aggressive timeline, but surpass it with everything we were able to achieve. Not only did we create the course, but we also wrote a grant (that was awarded!!!!), created the online portion of the class, connected with multiple academic departments to cross list the course, get it approved by the university, do initial planning to ensure the course was as accessible as possible for students with all learning styles and abilities, create materials for the course, build over 100 types of assignments…. Well, need I go on? Seriously, this team was ON FIRE!

JS: Assignments? I think you mean quests. We decided to come up with a totally different framework from how we’ve done classes before. However it didn’t start with this class-I gave Bethany the opportunity to fully re-write a different class I coordinate. No restrictions-no limitations…take the general idea and make something new. And she made something I would NEVER have created. I would not have selected the concepts she wanted to cover. I would not have chosen the format. After a bad experience with two-day, shorter classes I wouldn’t have switched that. And she was able and willing to create something new. She proved an ability to challenge me to stretch myself and become a better person. She created a totally different way for things to be done and different class concepts I would not have chosen to teach but that are perfectly relevant. Working together on that class built a trust that when she said “we are doing this” I believed her. When she would challenge something I was thinking it was to make things better and push me in a new way. It was really all for the benefit of the students and the class. So I allowed myself to be led down a path that I had just visualized a few years earlier and was unsure would ever be a reality.

B: I think JS hit on the two key pieces of our work together: trust and challenge. I am the safe player. I can tell you the next ten moves, ten weeks in advance- it’s just how my brain worked. JS challenged me to think in a way that helped me grow and helped to build the best experience possible for our students. When JS challenged my ideas, I was scared- we travelled into the unknown! EEK! But, that is when the best ideas came to fruition. I followed JS into the scary abyss of the unknown and he allowed me to put it into something physically in front of us to continue to make sense of. This created trust between us. We knew that where one person was nervous or lacked confidence, the other person could be the foundation. Thus, the mountain building phrase we came up used throughout. Didn’t mean it wasn’t butting heads sometimes, but it was constructive and created the peak!

JS: An interesting thing to notice here…since this is a leadership class. We were both leading. And both following. Both equally important, in my opinion, to good leadership. We were willing to set everything else aside for the good of the class and students it would be serving. The students were always our focus-what would be the best, most engaging classroom experience for them. We shared similar goals and worked together to reach for them.

B: Also good lessons to be learned- We failed. There were days that we got almost nothing done. Days that we were on completely different ideas as to what we thought things looked like. But, it was through these “failures” that we succeed. When these days happened, we took a breather and came back with a fresh mind and ideas and continued to build the mountain. WE did it!

What is NASAGA?


The North American Simulation and Gaming Association

We will be talking a bit about NASAGA over the course of this blog. NASAGA has had a tremendous impact on us (and our ideas and methods for creating the class as well as other aspects of our work.) So, I feel we should introduce what NASAGA is.

NASAGA is the North American Simulation and Gaming Association.  From the website, “The North American Simulation and Gaming Association is THE home for trainers, teachers, and educators who use active learning methods to increase engagement, enhance retention, and improve performance.”  When people hear I’m going to a “gaming conference” for professional development they frequently question whether I am attending a professional conference and whether it is worth the university’s money. After seeing the results of what I have produced after attending the conference those questions quickly vanish. I can also point people to NASAGA’s Why Use Games page to help explain why our approach works.

My first trip to NASAGA was in 2012. Part of the ability to attend was it was close-two hours away in Columbus. While there I not only met some fantastic people but also was rejuvenated and blown away by the ideas and approaches that were being taken for training and learning. I had previously attended another excellent conference roughly 20 times (NACA-the National Association for Campus Activities) which I enjoyed but rarely hit my particular learning style. Someone I had met through NACA suggested I consider NASAGA and it was amazing. I felt awkward at first attending a conference where I didn’t know anyone and knew little of what to expect but quickly was enveloped into the fold and made to feel like I was home.

I attended every session slot and all but one (where the technology didn’t work) were excellent. If you would like to see what I attended at the conference you can view the report on the sessions I attended I turned in when I returned to campus. Notice one of the sessions is “Mining for Gold: Discovering Board Games’ Principles for Learning.” Greg Koeser (Founder/Game Designer for Short Attention Span Games) and Scott Nicholson Professor of Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario presented a session about using board games to learn. While I did find a few games I eventually bought for personal use at that conference, I think it goes without saying this was one of the things that helped with the idea behind the class launching this fall. I was excited, energized and ready to make an impact with what I had learned.


Part of the final presentation at NASAGA 2012

I did make an impact from that first trip and had a desire to begin attending annually, but things stopped me both personally and professionally from returning (or doing as much as I had intended.) Part of that was a new supervisor who also didn’t understand the value I found in going to a conference for gaming. However, when it was again just a couple of hours away, I was able to go along with two others from Miami; Bethany, who has been wowing you with her blog entries on here and Aidyn, who may be eventually as he is possibly also teaching a section of this class in the spring.  This semester we presented on the conference instead of writing a full report but I can tell you for all three of us NASAGA has revolutionized what we are doing in all aspects of our careers. Aidyn and I are working to create a number of breakout boxes/escape rooms with materials from Breakoutedu to use for training and team building. Bethany and I are creating this class. And that is just a couple of the things that have come from the conference. Trainings we have conducted, work with colleagues and our staffs-they have all been changed for the better by NASAGA. This fall Aidyn, Bethany and I will be returning as a trio to NASAGA…and this time it is not two hours away…it is in Reno, Nevada. (Side note-I’ve never been further west than St. Louis, so…adventure!)

Miami trio at NASAGA

The Miami Trio took NASAGA 2016 by storm.

This isn’t meant to sell you on attending NASAGA (although you should attend NASAGA-we hope to see you there!) This is to show you where we got a lot of the ideas and inspiration for what we do. Also to say take a risk. There are opportunities out there to revolutionize your work in ways you would never expect. NASAGA has twice done it for me and will be again this fall. Bethany and I are presenting on the class (more on that in a future blog) and Aidyn is presenting as well as helping plan part of the conference. Find those tools that help you do what you do better. We all did with NASAGA. Hopefully you find your way to do so also!

Curriculum Wizarding

“Here is a map for your journey. This map will guide you to scenarios where you will gain experience points by conquering a newer field of gamifying leadership concepts. At the end of your journey, you will find a treasure beyond any physical reward– an inspired group of undergraduate students that go forth into the world to further develop their understanding of their personal leadership style,” the mighty wizard with a magical curriculum map said.

Truth be told, there was no magical wizard that visited JS and I in our shared office. As a matter of fact, we were never gifted a magical map either. However, we did have a shared vision of inspiring undergraduate students through gamifying leadership topics and inspiring personal growth and development.

Our curriculum started at the end: We started with our goal and worked backwards to the details. What did we want to accomplish? (See our above stated vision.) What topics did we need to cover in order to reach that goal? What games show these topics? What activities or dialogues can we have that accompany these topics? And, when we got to these smaller levels, we always had to stop ourselves and ask, “what is the why?”. If this didn’t match up to the larger goal, it was back to the drawing board.

What did this look like? Well, like I said in a previous post: post-it notes are my favorite thing in the whole wide world. We went from our spider web chart to two, side-by-side, large post it notes separated into columns and rows. The rows were the 14 weeks of the semester and columns included the what (leadership topic), why (how this enhances leadership), and how (specific games).

[JS to insert picture here]

From these charts, we moved to something a tad more condense that my teacher friends might be able to identify as lesson plans. (JS prefers to call them “session outlines“.) We created these outlines to serve as a helpful guide to those who may teach the course without us down the road, as well as an opportunity for us to share through writing what we were hoping to achieve through each class lesson. Each of these outlines included a brief description of what was happening that class session, learning goals, materials needed, reminder to take attendance, a topic introduction, brief game(s) overview, possible debrief suggestions, and homework reminders (learning how to play the next session’s game) for the next class. You can view a sample of our lesson plan here.

Rather than being gifted a magical map of curriculum development, we crafted one. How did we know we weren’t just creating some random collection of games that we wanted to play but also had intentional teaching moments? By using educational pedagogies and models, of course! However, we will save that for another adventure…

Tabletop Games & Leadership FAQ

There are several questions that I’ve received about the idea of this class from the earliest conception to now. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received.

Tabletop games? Like ping pong? Or what?

Not like ping pong or billiards or air hockey or whatever. (I’m not joining the ongoing debate on if those count as tabletop games. Instead I’ll just say they aren’t what we’re using in class.) Tabletop Games is the current term for the family of games that encompasses board games, card games, pen and paper role playing games, etc. Many people use the blanket term “board games.” However, as RPGs, card games, and more are not truly “board games” (there is no board) the term tabletop game has emerged and is most frequently used now.

What do tabletop games have to do with leadership?

This question should really start with what is leadership and move from there, so that’s what I’ll do. Realistically leadership  involves everything. I don’t feel there is one correct definition for leadership. Leadership means many different things to many different people and I try to stress that in all of my classes. Personally I believe in a lot of what Drew Dudley says about leadership. His Leading with Lollipops Ted Talk is my favorite of all time, although I also agree with him on many of his other concepts. You can check out four of his Ted Talks to see what he has to say. I also agree with Simon Sinek and his concept we should “Start With the Why.” However, I would not say that either of these are the “correct” definition of leadership because I don’t believe there is one correct definition-I think each person has their own. I may not agree with some people’s thoughts on the topic but that doesn’t make it wrong.

So that brings us back to what does leadership have to do with tabletop games?  Everything! Depending on the game there are tons of lessons that can be learned. If there wasn’t I wouldn’t be using them to teach a class. Just as you can observe the interactions between players on a Quidditch pitch and discuss leadership, you also can see the same thing with board games. Sometimes these interactions are a critical part of the game design, others it is the interactions the players experience while playing the game. An excellent example from EDL classes this past semester includes using the game Ultimate Werewolf to discuss the First Follower concept, to discuss the roles people take in groups and decision making, to evaluate trust in a group and much more. I’ll discuss more about student reactions to that later. Another example can be seen in using Captain Sonar to look at communications. Another way I used a game in class this past semester was creating my own questions based on student orgs for the game Say Anything to let students see how others perceived their organizations.

You just want to play games in class, right?

To start with-I won’t be playing the games. The students in the class will. Most of the time I’ll be serving as moderator/game master while games are going on. I can answer questions about the games, but want the students to experience the games with peers. That said, this is more than just playing games. Using active learning and games or activities to teach has been a hallmark of student affairs forever and is core to the EDL 290 family of courses. People have many different learning styles, but games are very effective at reaching a broad range of people.

So…in class each week students will play Life or Monopoly and…what?

First, no. We won’t be playing many “classic” older games. This class is based primarily around the renaissance in gaming that is currently happening.  It could be said to have started in the mid-90s. Before that period there were good games, but the entire landscape changed in the mid-1990s. I believe the oldest game we are playing is from 1982 (Survive: Escape From Atlantis) but most of the games are from the past 10 years or so and many from the past five.

As for what students will do in class? We have selected games based on different leadership themes. They will play the game or games selected for that week. After playing we will discuss the games, leadership concept (both those that are the theme of the week as well as other aspects of leadership that came out during the game) and any other topics they want to discuss involving games and leadership.  Some weeks we may also do a short activity, watch a video, etc. We will use this all together to look at both games and leadership in new and unique ways.

Board games? Aren’t those for kids?


Don’t you know it is the digital era? Why board games instead of video games?

I’ll answer this with a section directly from the grant we received from CTE to fund the class.

“This course is based around games for learning. Tabletop games are more popular now than ever before.  Whether it is role playing games  ( or board games ( globally more people than ever before are sitting down at tables socially to play tabletop games both at home, at local game stores, at clubs and organizations and at board game cafes. ( There are many reasons for this, including the fact that many people now spend their days working on computers and this allows them to spend their free time socializing away from computers. ( Miami University has developed one of the  top game design programs in the nation, which allows students to focus both on video and tabletop game design.”

So one of the primary reasons for this is tabletop games are more popular now than ever before. Another reason is much more practical-basing this class on video games and having a shared experience would be cost prohibitive for many students. Text books for students cost a lot-imagine if a PS4 was required for a class.  Finally, the interactions of sitting around a table playing these games will give students a shared experience that will make for better and more authentic discussions. There is also a huge difference between face-to-face interactions vs digital ones. Using video games during winter or summer terms was discussed and could be something we consider in the future. However, I believe tabletop games to be a better way to get to the concepts we want to in this class.

Ok-you have the class. Will the students really learn anything from it? Isn’t this a waste of their time?

Yes, students will learn. I’m not going to ask you to trust me on that. Instead I’ll use feedback from some of the anonymous course evaluations from the past semester.

“The werewolf game was an interesting exercise of trust and leadership. The real leadership that I witnessed occurred during the debates of what the ghosts clues really meant.”

“I found it interesting how leaders naturally rose up in that game and others tended to follow. Once just one person recommended someone to kill off, others jumped on board. I was expecting more debate on these decisions but it seemed that if one person acted confident enough, others would follow suit. I am glad we had a chance to play this!”

“Relating this topic to the fairy tale activity, I think we learned a lot about communication. It showed that you need to stay on topic with communication and not beat around the bush but rather get to the point. Also, I thought it demonstrated how various members of a student org can have opinions that build on one another to create a nice finished product.”

“The games made it easy to understand basic concepts and issues real organizations face.”

“The games because it taught leadership in ways everyone could understand and wouldn’t be hindered by a language barrier.”

Can I force-add into the class?

Unfortunately, no. The main reason for this is the course size (24) was intentionally chosen based on player count for games. Many of the games we will be playing either have 4, 6, or 8 players as the player count. As such, we purchased the correct number of games to maximize our player count for games. For example, with Captain Sonar we will have three groups of eight players. If another person was added to the mix, they would not be able to participate in the game. There will be a few games that this will not be the case for, however most of the games fit this standard. So we will be capped at 24 each semester. We are considering teaching the course every semester (it was originally intended to just be a fall class) and potentially do a second session of the class some semesters. So many people wanted to register that I want to give people the chance to take the class if they are truly interested. And seeing as it is an elective that will count towards several majors and minors on campus, it will be good to give people the chance to take the class.

Tabletop Games & Leadership

When you study leadership and work on leadership related activities, soon many things in your life become about leadership. I remember walking into the store to buy Marvel’s The Avengers on Blu-Ray and thinking “I could use this in my Emerging Leaders class to discuss Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.” I started picturing all the scenes I could use from the movie to display the steps.

The same thing happens with me for many things…including tabletop games, which is a huge passion of mine. I don’t like the word “hobby” to describe it, because it goes beyond what I think of as a hobby. There were several games I played that I considered how they taught different leadership lessons. I clearly remember playing Ladies & Gentlemen with several friends for the first time and having two thoughts in quick succession. First was “this would be great to talk about identity in a classroom.” This was followed quickly by “I’ll bet I could teach an entire class based on leadership and tabletop games!” I broached the topic with the Educational Leadership Department and they liked the idea and wanted me to also speak with Interactive Media Studies. I planned to do so, but also considered the roadblocks (most notably the cost that would be involved with such a class) and put it on the back burner. I thought about it occasionally and even talked about the idea a little but that was it.

That was until Bethany MacMillan, a graduate student and dear friend I had been working with asked me…no, really she told me, she was going to do an independent study with me in Spring of 2017 to create the class. I love working with Bethany so I eagerly accepted the opportunity.  In my mind the class would then be created and I could teach it sometime in the future.  Then she told me we were creating it to be taught the very next semester-Fall of 2017. I immediately protested, but she told me it was happening. There will be more blogs about that process (including some by Bethany) but long story short…not only is the class being taught this fall, we got a $3000 grant from the Center for Teaching Excellence, got amazing support from both the Department of Educational Leadership and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies.  The class was placed on the schedule and registration maxed out so quickly that not even all seniors had a chance to schedule the course.

So now the dream is a reality. Thursday, August 31 Dane Winiesdorffer (my co-instructor and the president of the campus’ tabletop student organization-the Strategy Gaming Club) will walk into class and begin this journey. We will give the students copies of the Player’s Handbook (syllabus) and the adventure will begin!

Game Shelf

The shelf with games to be used in the initial semesters of the class